Sunday, May 21, 2006

You Are What You Eat

In most sports, coaches and management have a tough choice to make: Do I build my team around the philosophy I believe is most right, or do I adjust my philosophy to best match the players who are currently on the roster? In the NBA playoffs happening right now, the Mavericks and the Pistons have collected players that fit their respective philosophies, while the Cavs and Suns have taken the talents on their roster and even gone so far as to hire coaches with systems that would accentuate their players' strengths.

It's a great sports debate (my take is that as an approach, both can be correct), but with food I think it's clear that it's the players who have the biggest impact on a winning team. Simply, restaurants that center their menus around great ingredients and then find the best way to assemble them are usually better, more-interesting places to eat.

I was talking with a friend who works at Boulevard, and he was saying that they have a "mushroom guy" who comes to the back door from time to time with a garbage bag full of some of the freshest, tastiest mushrooms you've ever seen. They don't know when he'll come by, but when he does they make a cash transaction on the spot and then figure out how they're going to use them. "Oh, there's a ton of options," my friend says. "Make a soup, pair them with meat, a stand-alone appetizer with them as the centerpiece... finding ways to use them is never an issue." I like this approach.

Similarly, when you go to a restaurant and they point out a new addition to the menu and say something like, "We just got some incredible grouper in and [chef] had to find a place for it on the menu." I'm a sucker for that kind of banter and I'm usually not disappointed when I fall for it.


At one of the best meals I've ever eaten - an Italian restaurant in New York called Il Mulino - there's a front table just as you walk in that's piled four-feet high with fresh vegetables from that day. Especially in a place like New York, that isn't regularly-blessed with great fruits and vegetables like the Bay Area is, this table acts as an effective beacon to diners who can discern great ingredients.

(What happens to this mountain of beautiful veggies after they close is a mystery to me, but my suspicion is that with the amount of money the restaurant pulls in they probably don't much care. Don't think I haven't wondered though.)

Point is that in cooking, as in sports, ingredients matter. Larry Brown, who I think is a great coach, will finish in last place with Isiah Thomas' ingredients. Likewise, the greatest culinary preparation in the world can only rise so high without the greatest ingredients. I appreciate restaurants that know the difference.

A canned, boiled tomato...


11 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've been to Il Mulino, as well. I also noticed the pile of fresh foods, but I thought it was kind of weird, and it kind of creeped me out to think that the food had just been sitting out there all day. By the same token, I don't like restaurants that put plates of their entrees out in front of their restaurants to draw customers in. It's gross to see cold, congealed food. I'd rather imagine what it will taste like, so just get a good menu writer instead.

suckafree said...

Prepared, congealed food on display is a completely different matter and I find it gross as well. It reminds me of walking by Joji's House of Teriyaki on Union St.

Anonymous said...

i think your blogs are too slanted toward places you reside(d). open up some more. enough of polk street and the mission already. are there no restaurants in the north beach? richmond? sunset? excelsior? lower haight? south beach? west portal? SoMa? western addition?

suckafree said...

Now that's just silly. My last few posts have concentrated on the Financial District and Presidio Heights - neither of which I've ever lived near. But that's fine if that's the impression. The two neighborhoods you named are two of the best culinary hoods, so I'm okay being a bit biased towards them.

And no, there are no good restaurants in the Excelsior. I dare you to prove me wrong on that one.

Anonymous said...

i think your references to sports figures is kinda corny and a bit of a stretch. i've noticed it a few times now; especially the the texas rangers picthers. who are those guys? i cant speak for everyone but most of us reading a food blog dont relate to your sports analogies. and thats some food for thought!

suckafree said...

I'd agree that the Texas Rangers comments in my Maverick post were DEFINITELY a stretch, as it was an anology that I was having fun with at the time.

But I stand by my ingredients-as-players analogy as I think it fits.

As for "corny" - yes, that's me.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the person who doesn't like the sports/food analogies. I think it's what makes this blog entertaining and different from other one-dimensional food blogs. How many times can you read about the same restaurants? Don't let them pigeonhole you into one category, suckafree. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

do you take requests for places to review?

suckafree said...

Absolutely! Especially if you're paying.

Anonymous said...

Dude, you sound like a yuppie. I'll bet you live in the Marina.

suckafree said...

Nope. Try again.